As with every year, a lot of good music is released, much of which I don’t even get to hear despite my best efforts. Ranking albums every year are also difficult, because they are often very closely rated with each other. I am grateful for the musicians out there who create mind-blowing albums for us to appreciate year in and year out, and this year is no exception – despite its unusual difficulties and obstacles to overcome. Even without much live music, many artists went to the studio or recorded at home to keep sharing with the world what they do best. So without further ado, here are my Top 12 Albums for 2020:
Honorable Mentions for 2020:
Allen/Olzon (USA/Sweden) – Worlds Apart
Black Fate (Greece) – Ithaca
John Petrucci (USA) – Terminal Velocity
12. Amberian Dawn – Looking for You
Finland’s Amberian Dawn did something different with their album this year, and at first, it threw me for a loop, but then it grew on me. It is a very 80’s pop-oriented metal, and influenced by Abba, so much so they did a cover of their song Lay All Your Love on Me. One of their songs was more in their usual symphonic metal vein, and vocalist Capri featured a duet with Angra’s Fabio Lione on the track. Bonus!
11. DGM – Tragic Separation
The Italian metallers are back again after 4 years since their last album. There are no surprises on this album – it’s classic DGM – and Tragic Separation sounds just like a continuation of the last 3-4 albums from the group. Even though they don’t stray far from their formula, they have a formula that works with a very tight sound trademarked by Simone‘s shredding guitar and Mark‘s soaring vocals.
10. Anubis Gate – Covered in Colours
This Danish progressive metal band is another no-brainer for me. However, this album is different than their norm, as they created an album that was the flip-side of their previous album, Covered in Black. This record is more upbeat and featured all cover songs – but not just recreations of the originals – they are truly reimagined in Anubis Gate style. Not what you’d usually expect for a cover album…some songs are unrecognizable, they have put their own stamp on there so much – and in some cases, I like their versions even better than the originals. They choose from a wide variety of artists to cover, not just “standard” songs you’d expect, either. And the cover art is pretty spiffy, too.
9. Zuberoa Aznarez – Nowell
You may wonder who Zuberoa is, but you may be more familiar with her from her band, Diabulus in Musica. This Spanish songstress released a solo album this year of medieval classic Christmas carols with period instruments in multiple languages that was just a joy to hear, especially this holiday season. It’s not metal, as she is a woman of many styles, but it was still a top album for me this year. As an honorable mention (or call it a tie), since she released 2 albums this year – solo and with Diabulus in Musica, I will honorarily include their release Euphonic Entropy here as well. (swing metal, anyone?)
8. Unleash the Archers – Abyss
I’ve been following this Canadian band for a while, but this album is the first one that really caught my attention. There is something different about this album that is very accessible, and I feel that Brittney Slayes’ vocals are in a great range that is comfortable for her and really showcases her voice the best. There’s no question that Unleash the Archers have very talented musicians, but I think they really outdid themselves on this album.
7. Delain – Apocalypse and Chill
Who knew how prophetic this early 2020 release title would be for this year by The Netherlands’ Delain? I’ve seen them live a few times and listened to their albums in the past, but this one really caught my attention. Charlotte‘s vocals sound fantastic and everything gels nicely on this prescient album.
6. Vanden Plas – The Ghost Xperiment: Illumination
It’s pretty much a given that Germany’s Vanden Plas will make this list if they have a release that year. In 2020, they followed up with the second half to The Ghost Xperiment concept album with Illumination. Not much to say other than it’s the typical genius of Vanden Plas at play.
5. Antti Martikainen – Sonic Savior
This was an album that nearly snuck under the radar, as it released on December 27th and barely made the cut. Finland’s Antti Martikainen has become a fast favorite among instrumental music, as he can write epic tunes, sweeping cinematic albums as well as symphonic metal or celtic fantasies. This year, he decided to put out a heavier album with plenty of guitars. This time, DGM’s Simone Mularoni helmed the production while Noveria’s Francesco Mattei contributes the guitar work.
4. Nightwish – Human :||: Nature
What else can I say about the trailblazing Finnish symphonic metal band? This album fared better for me than their last release, and the arrangements on this album are excellent. It feels like it featured vocalist Floor Jansen’s voice in her natural habitat more, and they allowed pipes/whistle player Troy Donockley and bassist Marco Hietala to sing on their own songs as well as lead vocalists. The variety in styles of music throughout the album is great, as well as the additional classical instrumental album and narrations that gave me goosebumps. A well-done album all around.
3. Ignea – The Realms of Fire and Death
The Ukraine’s Ignea got on my radar with their video for Alga a couple of years ago with their special brand of oriental symphonic metal. Helle‘s clean mezzo-soprano vocals are perfect for the band – not overly operatic and a good balance for the heaviness of the music – and she can belt out some dirty cookie monster vocals when needed, better than many other screamo vocalists. I love their unique style of music, incorporating various styles within the metal framework and have quickly risen to one of my favorite bands. Plus, this album has songs in 3 languages – English, Ukrainian, and Icelandic! Their release this year did not disappoint.
2. Pyramaze – Epitaph
The multi-national group Pyramaze is another one of those bands that will be a given on my top album year lists. Their release this year is no different, and they pulled off some great extras on this album as well, including a guest vocal from Unleash the Archer’s Brittney Slayes as well as a song written by their original guitarist Michael Kammeyer and included all three vocalists in Pyramaze’s history – Lance King, Matt Barlow, and Terje Harøy. What an epic ending to this album!
1. Ad Infinitum – Chapter 1: Monarchy
This was an album that totally took me by surprise. Not only did it make my album of the year, it’s a debut album by the group. Melissa Bonny’s vocals are exceptional, and the instrumentalists create very catchy compositions while hiding some complex music in between the lines. And they released the whole album as an acoustic version as well. Switzerland’s Ad Infinitum definitely made a top first impression. Looking forward to more!